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From protection to independence: utilizing intersector cooperation to ensure consumer options.

In the 1970s an important part of the universal goal of institutional reform was to maximize the potential of all individuals with disabilities (Budd & Baer, 1976; Martin, 1977). Recently "maximum potential" has been described as the opportunity to make choices, experience individual freedom, and attain personal goals (Kiernan & Stark, 1989). As Reiter expressed (1991, p. 34):

A reformed institution is one in which residents achieve a sense of control over their lives. Freedom of choice and making decisions about one's private life exerts an enormous effect on one's sense of control. This is expressed in all aspects of life, whether the minor matter of what to eat today or the more serious question|s~ of where to live ... |or work~.

One strategy to promote choices is to simply place individuals with disabilities in those settings in which choices are possible. The identification--or creation--of those settings is a challenge to those who serve consumers with severe disabilities.

For over a decade vocational training and rehabilitation programs were often delivered in segregated workshop settings. A relatively recent shift in emphasis encourages community-based training and employment for consumers with disabilities. However, "appropriate service delivery" may or may not be realized simply by changing the service location. The structural environment may change while the interaction with community members remains the same (Meador, Osborn, Owens, Smith, & Taylor, 1991). If consumers are to become integral members of their resident communities, the efforts of providers, public and private sector agencies, family members, and consumers must be coordinated to fulfill each individual's specific needs and desires (Hardman, Heal, Haney, & Amado, 1988; Wehman, Moon, Everson, Wood, & Barcus, 1988).

The shift from a protected environment to one that promotes options, choices, and independence necessitates cognitive, semantic, and behavioral changes by staff and community members. The shifts occur as staff and community members think of themselves not as benevolent caregivers, but as friends, mentors, employers, and supervisors and of consumers as friends, co-workers, and employees. Shifts occur when staff members transcend relatively unimaginative roles that address implementing routine standards and assume active roles that promote community-based social and vocational competence. Shifts occur when staff assist members of the community to recognize and provide options for people with disabilities--options that allow them to be full participants in vocational, social, and recreational activities.

This article describes how a service program mobilized community involvement to make a shift. The shift changed services from segregated facility-based training to integration of consumers into all aspects of community life. Although this is a small program in a rural community, the procedures staff employed are applicable across programs and communities.

Historical Overview

Community-based facility. In 1979 the Bear River Adult Skill Center (BRASC) was established by parents to provide a service alternative outside of the home for their adult children with disabilities. Parents, Center staff members, the Eagles (a fraternal service organization), and representatives from the University that served as the contracting service entity located a facility, identified operational barriers, and secured operating revenue. However, as funding for basic in-house services was secured, parents' involvement diminished; interaction with other community members was minimal, and the necessity for a different kind of community involvement became apparent. Opportunities to function in the community were critical if consumers were to transcend dependent roles to become participants and partners.

Community-based training. Early integration efforts at BRASC (initiated through the Utah State University-Affiliated Center for Persons with Disabilities) piloted procedures to assist consumers in obtaining community-based employment. Although participants experienced short-term integrated job placements, each soon returned to the Center on a full-time basis. However, these externally funded efforts suggested that an array of employment options was possible and that future efforts, bolstered by greater community involvement, could be successful.

The lack of interagency coordination and intersector cooperation was an obstacle in increasing consumer integration alternatives, i.e., choices. When external funding for job placements ended, so did job opportunities. Employers and Job Service counselors overlooked qualified individuals with disabilities for job openings because (a) they remained unaware of current training methods, and (b) required support systems were underdeveloped or unavailable. To overcome these problems, Center staff needed to establish coordinated and cooperative relationships with community members. Better community relationships would enable the Center to develop successful community-based training and employment when additional funding became available, as described below.

Steps to Facilitate Community Involvement

It was critical that the Center provide opportunities for all consumers to interact on a regular basis with members of the community. To achieve successful community participation, staff would need to help consumers find roles in the community as volunteers, as members of a mobile work crew, or in individual job placements. To permit consumer participation in the community work force, staff would need to implement currently available placement models including competitive employment, co-worker training and transition, supported-job-based-training, and supported employment (Bellamy, Rhodes, Mank, & Albin, 1988; Curl & Hall, 1990; Hardman, et al., 1989).

Networking. The sometimes informal, but decidedly crucial, process of reaching out, making contacts, sharing information, and building trust to promote change has long been recognized in the business community as a valid means to increase visibility and involvement (Kiernan & Stark, 1986; LePore & Janicki, 1990). Traditionally, not-for-profit and service-based agencies tended to view networking as a "business tactic" and overlooked its uses to increase and socially validate their service delivery options (Hardman, et al., 1988). Such was the case with the Bear River Adult Skill Center during its formative years. Initially, BRASC sought funds from community groups but did not mobilize the comprehensive involvement that is necessary to ensure consumer integration. In 1985, community involvement was limited to two state agencies, parents, a fraternal organization, two community organizations, and the Utah State University-Affiliated Program (UAP), Center for Persons with Disabilities.

At this time, the Advisory Board was primarily composed of consumers' parents or guardians, representatives of the Eagles, and UAP staff. The Board was reorganized to stimulate active involvement of representatives of local businesses (e.g., banks and members of the Chamber of Commerce) and agencies (e.g., vocational rehabilitation) who might create opportunities for Center consumers to work or recreate. The program director began reorganization by inviting individuals from the groups already affiliated with the Center to join the Board. Each potential Board member contacted was involved with at least one individual with a disability and had demonstrated a desire to assist in opening integration alternatives. Inclusion of these new Board members broadened BRASC's community exposure and opened avenues for increased consumer integration. Consistent with the concept of networking, each board member assumed a specific assignment (e.g., chairing a committee) to assist with the Center's growth and development.

BRASC staff assumed initial responsibility for establishing rapport with city and state agencies (e.g., Job Service) not yet affiliated with the program. Staff encouraged small business owners to inform their peers of the potential benefits of employing persons with disabilities by making informal requests and formal presentations to professional groups. Representatives of large businesses accepted the charge to hire at least one BRASC consumer within a two-year period. City representatives agreed to advocate for hiring individuals with disabilities when vacancies occurred on the city or county work force. Job Service representatives assisted by notifying the Center of potential openings, informing prospective employers about available and qualified individuals with disabilities, and aiding with the completion of eligibility paperwork necessary for participation in programs such as Targeted Jobs Tax Credit and the Job Training Partnership Act. An attorney donated services to incorporate the Board and agreed to act as legal counsel. Parents helped to identify additional Board members and locate additional revenue sources. Representatives from service agencies agreed to assist the Center in obtaining funding for innovative programming and to increase the number of referrals. Banking representatives agreed to provide advice regarding financial arrangements.

Soliciting Broader Community Involvement. Staff reviewed local Chamber of Commerce and state resource lists to determine potential target groups. Using published or privately collected information regarding the purpose, size, locale, and community involvement history of each agency, business, or group, the Center director identified those that might impact consumer service options. For example, she targeted three franchised businesses affiliated with national companies that had good reputations for employing people with disabilities. She contacted those representatives who could have the most immediate impact in addressing an identified Center or consumer need. During the initial visit, she presented a Center overview and explained how each organization could assist individuals with disabilities in becoming integral members of their community and the benefits to each party. As a result of visits, numerous companies, groups, and individuals became actively involved in the change process. The director made personal contact every three months with those who were reluctant to participate to describe the changes that had occurred and encourage them to become involved in the process.

Effects of Expanded Consumer-Community Involvement

Over a three-year period, these steps resulted in an operational shift from self-contained service to services integrated into community settings. As consumers entered jobs varying from food service to production and as they held jobs for longer periods of time, new issues arose. Some consumers required long-term services to maintain a job or to cope with changing job requirements. Others needed intermittent assistance; this assistance sometimes included helping them to investigate options for changing jobs. Financial support for these varying lengths and intensities of service required assistance from different state agencies. Moreover, it was important to tailor services to what consumers really wanted.

Cooperative Planning. The Center initiated the practice of interagency cooperative planning (Gillet, 1981; Mcloughlin, Garner, & Callahan, 1987; Curl & Hall, 1990). This occurred whenever a consumer placement required financial support from more than one source. Center staff led a planning session with all parties involved: consumer, family, staff members, and identified sponsoring agencies. During this meeting, participants identified needs (client preferences and required staff support), designed objectives, designated implementors, specified methods (including source of financial support for short- and long-term services), and projected time frames for completion of each objective. Individualized employment plans proved to be an excellent mechanism for achieving interagency coordination, developing programs, and tapping community resources to meet consumer needs.

Continued Systematic Community Contacts. Intersector cooperation, as defined by Rusch (1986) and demonstrated by community involvement, needed bolstering to keep pace with the programmatic changes or goals that were difficult to achieve. During monthly reviews, Center administration prioritized community businesses and service agencies for employment contacts. They addressed (a) each potential employer's willingness to hire individuals who were disabled and managerial commitment to placements and training assistance, and (b) the amount of integration that would be afforded each consumer. The Center director or job placement coordinator contacted public or private businesses identified through this process. To maintain the growing consumer support network, a board member and staff representative were assigned to develop and maintain close relationships with business owners and managers who joined the transition effort.

Impetus for community-based placements. Renewed Center placement efforts began in 1986 when the State Division of Services for People with Disabilities determined that a number of consumers were no longer eligible for their services, due to eligibility constraints established as part of the newly implemented Medicaid Home and Community-Based Waiver. The State Division of Rehabilitation agreed to fund these individuals for one year in a supported-job-based training model. At the end of this period, all consumers involved in the project were to be employed at individual placement sites. Center staff felt that supported employment was a viable option for some of these consumers; however, initial requests for state supported employment funds were denied due to the small number of consumers involved. Through a cooperative effort with a federally-funded UAP project to provide co-worker-based job training, they were able to develop some job training and placement options. Center staff employed an alternative method of providing supported employment (the Co-worker Training and Transition Project, Curl & Hall, 1990), teaching employers and co-workers to provide training and support to consumers as described below. This effort enhanced the skill development for consumers and employers.

As this process continued, state agencies offered supported employment funds to the Center. This solidified relationships and, by 1989, made a full range of community job placement and training services accessible.

Consumers previously unable to access community-based employment service options now had the opportunity to become integral members of the work force. However, additional job preparation was necessary if they were to succeed in their jobs. Staff established mobile work crews to meet the need of consumers who required more supervision than was available in a traditional work setting. Based on information from Job Service, they identified target work areas (e.g., landscaping and custodial services) and potential employers (government and private business and service agencies).

Integration Outcomes

Options for community involvement. To provide on-the-job support for consumers using the Co-Worker Training and Transition Model (Curl & Hall, 1990), the Center paid supervisors and co-workers to participate in training to assist employees with disabilities gain the necessary job skills. This assistance included advocacy and on-the-job help (e.g., modeling and coaching) as new employees with disabilities learned specific job tasks. Although managers and owners received no remuneration for employing individuals with disabilities (other than tax credits, where applicable), they began to talk about the potential and benefits of this employee pool. Community agencies and businesses began to contact the Center regarding employment opportunities, contract needs, and volunteer opportunities. Participating employers and coworkers expanded to include service industries (hospital, child care), franchised businesses (primarily food services), and local businesses (food processing and garment industry). Business leaders began to volunteer in new roles at the Center not only as job coaches and trainers, but also as advocates and friends. They invited consumers to join their families in holiday celebrations and to attend company social functions. Table 1 shows, by year, the total number of consumers in individual community-based jobs, the number who maintained employment with the initial employer, the number who changed jobs, and the number (one) who left the work force.
Table 1
Individual Community-Based Job Placement and Retention
 Cumulative # Maintained # Dropped
Year Total # in w/ Initial # Changed from
 Workforce Employer Employers Workforce
1984 0 0 0 0
1985 2 0 2 0
1986 15 5 10 0
1987 24 13 11 1
1988 33 16 17 0
1989 39 21 18 0
1990 42 38 4 0
1991 53 51 2 0

Various community groups needed assistance and Center staff, Board members, and consumers felt it was important to give something back to the community that supported their efforts. Center consumers participated in local volunteer efforts such as: (1) The Heritage Theater, a local volunteer community theater; (2) The Young Women's Christian Association, an organization to assist women in the community meet daily and crisis needs; (3) Box EIder Community Food Pantry, a local storehouse for emergency food distribution; (4) USDA Commodity Distribution Center, allocation of surplus government food to low-income families; and (5) Acts III Soup Kitchen, a community program providing a hot meal once a week to any and all needy individuals. Different consumers chose to serve in different roles, such as carrying food boxes to cars or providing custodial services at the theater. Generally, they continued to volunteer at sites where employers and patrons interacted with them, welcoming them and thanking them for assistance.

Center staff coordinated a consumer-based recreational program operated in the evening and on weekends to encourage individual participation in other community activities. Clients selected large and small group activities. Staff assisted in coordinating transportation. They encouraged consumers to invite co-workers to join them, for as individuals spent more time on the job, they had less time for recreation and were easily isolated from their friends at the Center. Figure 2 shows the various options for community participation that became available.


If consumers are to progress from sheltered living to community involvement, opportunities must be available for each person with disabilities to select options and make choices that capitalize on their individual interests and potential. Staff of agencies such as the Bear River Adult Skill Center can develop and use interagency coordination and intersector cooperation to attain and maintain community integration opportunities for consumers with disabilities. Coordination and cooperation can include several activities: (a) informing members of the community on an individual basis and in groups about how consumers with disabilities can participate in the community; (b) defining various roles in which community members can assist individuals with disabilities (e.g., as program board members, as employers, and as co-worker trainers); and (c) supporting consumers with disabilities as they work, volunteer, and recreate in the community. The BRASC staff members learned that it was necessary when approaching public and private organizations to carefully outline specific responsibilities and expected outcomes. To maintain involvement, they learned to initiate the regular review of stated responsibilities and expectations with members of the community.

Implementation of the procedures described in this article requires commitment from all participants. However, if implemented systematically and with care, they increase job choices and options for individuals with disabilities. As a result, consumers can make meaningful choices about how they will interact in their communities.

Author's Notes

The authors wish to acknowledge the efforts of staff, parents, and board members of the Bear River Adult Skill Center to enable provision of community-based services, and to acknowledge Joseph Stowitschek, who initiated community-based employment services at the Center. We would also like to thank Martin Agran for editorial suggestions.

Margo L. Stevens, Center for Persons with Disabilities, Utah State University, Logan, Utah.


Bellamy, G. T., Rhodes, L. E., Mank, D. E., & Albin, J. M. (1988). Supported employment: A community implementation guide. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Budd, K. S., & Baer, D. M. (1976). Behavior modification and the law: Implications of recent judicial decisions. The Journal of Psychiatry and Law, Summer 8, 164-192.

Curl, R. M. & Hall, S. M. (1990). Put that person to work! A manual for implementors using the co-worker transition model. Logan: Utah State University.

Gillet, P. (1981). Of work and worth: Career education for exceptional children and youth. Salt Lake City: Olympus Publishing Company.

Hardman, M., Heal, L. W., Haney, J. I., & Amado, A. R. (1988). Integration of developmentally disabled individuals into the community. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Kiernan, W. E., & Stark, J. A. (1986). Pathways to employment for adults with developmental disabilities. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

LePore, P., & Janicki, M. P. (1990). The wit to win. New York: New York Office for the Aging.

Martin, R. (1977). Legal challenges to behavior modifications. Champaign, IL: Research Press.

Mcloughlin, C. S., Garner, J. B., & Callahan, M. J. (1987). Getting employed, staying employed: Job development training for persons with severe handicaps. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Meador, D. M., Osborn, R. G., Owens, M. H., Smith, E. C., & Taylor, T. L. (1991). Evaluation of environmental support in group homes for persons with mental retardation. Mental Retardation, 29, 159-164.

Reiter, S. (1991). Institutional reform--Prerequisites for providing a life of quality for mentally retarded residents. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 12, 25-40.

Rusch, F. R. (1986). Competitive employment issues and strategies. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Wehman, P. E., Moon, M. S. Everson, J. M., Wood, W., & Barcus, J. M. (1988). From school to work: New challenges for youth with severe disabilities. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
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Article Details
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Author:Rule, Sarah
Publication:The Journal of Rehabilitation
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Previous Article:Sheltered employment and the second generation workshop.
Next Article:Community Resource Trainers: meeting the challenge of providing quality supported employment follow-along services.

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